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Posts Tagged ‘liminality’

“In the end we always act in the dark.” – Rebecca Solnit

I have always been a big planner.

My parents were also planners. My mom made a to-do list every week, even though she had a weekly schedule that didn’t involve a lot of variation. We rotated through the same dinners on a weekly basis: Monday was spaghetti night, Friday was pizza night. My dad planned road trips precisely by mileage. I started learning how to budget when I was eleven.

I enjoy planning. A well-laid plan skillfully executed gives me joy. I like planning trips and parties and my social calendar and my writing projects. I like analyzing, and I like strategizing. I like the sense of accomplishment I receive from meeting goals and milestones.

But.

I also agree with Rebecca Solnit. There is an uncertainty inherent in being alive, in being human. We don’t know the time of our deaths. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We might have a good guess, we might hope, but we don’t know. Not for sure.

And sometimes life takes a sudden swift turn, and we end up on a train to Transylvania just because it sounds cool. Or we end up spending five days lounging on the couch unable to leave the house because we are so ill, or two years struggling to walk more than a block because we are so injured. We end up breaking hearts or having our hearts broken. We end up having one of those perfect moments that bubble up from time to time, whose very essence lies in their unpredictability.

Some things cannot be planned.

Some things–and I feel like I’m about to commit sacrilege by saying this–some things cannot be practical.

And sometimes embracing the reality of the darkness, of not being able to see the hand in front of our faces, of not knowing and sinking into the uncomfortable truth of not knowing–sometimes this is the only way forward.

It is through not being able to see or know that we are able to sink deep within and become aware of those truths that endure through the uncertainty, in spite of or perhaps even because of it.

Photo Credit: Schjelderup via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Schjelderup via Compfight cc

Rebecca Solnit discusses the role of uncertainty and darkness in the life of the artist in the essay “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable,” which is in her collection of essays Men Explain Things to Me (how could I not read a book with a title like that?) and which also was adapted for the New Yorker.

My discovery of this essay last week was timely. Unpredictable, even. I’m in that gap between novel drafts that I always find uncomfortable, and meanwhile I had a conversation that made me question what it means to me to be a writer.

Being a writer, or really any kind of artist, is filled with a weird kind of uncertainty. The creative process can be planned, it can be quantified, it can be optimized, and yet…. there’s this point, for me, when all of that falls away. The plans, the ambition, the practicality, no longer speak so loudly. It’s not that they’re gone, exactly, and they can sometimes be forced to the fore when necessary, but they are in service to creation, not the other way around. And things click the way they click. Unpredictably. Not not always in the way I planned.

Onto this conversation about my writing career. We spoke about the timescale, and the other person said (paraphrasing) he’d write as much as possible in order to succeed as quickly as possible. And, he said, regardless of questions of money, I wouldn’t want to keep writing forever if I never succeeded in getting books published, would I?

And practically speaking, I’d have to agree with him. But the funny things is, I don’t actually agree with him. Not at all. I’m a writer through and through. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was seven. When I wasn’t writing prose, I was writing songs and music. It is so fundamentally folded into who I am, this compulsion to create, I would be bereft without it. It is one of the forces that has shaped who I am, something that feels simultaneously like something I chose and like something that chose me. I’m all in. And success (or at least this definition of success), while it is something I would like, is not the only part of the equation.

Being fully committed to being a writer in this moment feels like another definition of success.

Perhaps this is one of those things that has nothing to do with practicality. Perhaps being a writer is like swimming in the dark. You never know what you will find. In spite of your best efforts to chart your course, you never know exactly where you’re going.

I don’t know what the future holds. All I know is that I write.

“The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” So wrote Virginia Woolf.

Yes. The future is dark. It defies even the most perfect plans.

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Today I was going to write about my hopes for 2015, maybe talk about some goals, a little bit of what I anticipated.

And then Tuesday happened.

And so this post is going to be completely different from if I had written it on Monday.

At the beginning of November, I went to a big party. One of my closest friends was there, and I sat next to him by the fire pit in an attempt to not freeze to death (outdoor parties in November are a thing here in Northern California, but they possibly shouldn’t be), and we were chatting, and all of a sudden I blurted out, “I’m really unhappy.”

And he said, “Yes, I know,” not in a dismissive way but in an “I understand where you’re coming from” way. And we talked about why I was unhappy, and how I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, and then he said to me, “You know, Amy, wherever you go, you’ll take yourself with you.”

And because I trust my friend, and because he was totally right, I took his words to heart, and I kept doing what I had already been doing, which was trying to figure out some filters and make new friends and find a way to be happy where I was right then. I had been feeling so frustrated, but the simple act of stating my unhappiness and being heard with compassion healed something I didn’t even know needed healing, and I began to feel better. Literally that night.

Then I went to World Fantasy, and spending time with my friends there helped too, and I started being able to see the progress I was making, which is always heartening. And at a certain point, I decided I’d most likely stay in my apartment another year when my lease was up, as long as the rent didn’t go up too high. I didn’t want to move for the third time in a two-year period, I really like my apartment, and I was okay with the way my life here was going. Happy, even.

And then on Tuesday I got the notice about how much my rent will be increasing. It is a significant increase. Much higher than I was hoping. The local rents did another upwards spike sometime in the few months since I last checked. So the decision of whether to stay or to go is no longer an easy one. And the landscape of 2015 has suddenly become less certain.

I was stressing out about this, and I asked another friend of mine, “Why do I have to keep solving the same problem over and over?” And he said, “Conventional wisdom suggests you haven’t solved it if it keeps returning.” And that is exactly it. I have tried to solve the issue of my living situation, but so far, I’ve only succeeded in finding short-term solutions. And at some point, I’d really like to find a more sustainable solution.

(By the by, I have to take a moment to appreciate how incredible it is to have these friends who say wise and helpful and insightful things. It makes such a big difference. So there is one of my wishes for 2015, that I can be a friend like that too.)

In some ways, I don’t even want to talk about this because I’ve had this new information for two days, and I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t want anyone who lives local to me to start feeling sad prematurely, and I don’t want anyone who lives in Seattle or LA to get excited for no reason. I’m back in the liminal space again, and when I think of the future, it branches off in several directions, and I don’t know which direction I’m going to take. I don’t know if I’ll choose another short-term solution or if I’ll try something new.

But I am talking about it because I don’t know to such an extent that I can’t toss off a post about what I think 2015 will be as if I don’t have this decision on my mind. And honestly, 2015 has already been defying definition. I spent the last two months going from book idea to book idea, having my travel plans for next year morph and change, waiting to hear back about things, getting a lot of maybes and I’ll know soons.

Here are the predictions I can make about 2015: I will write. I will blog. I will query. I will read. I will sing. Nala will be adorable. I will go to Detroit in a couple of weeks, and I will go to the Rainforest Writers Retreat at the end of February. I will probably take a trip out of the country. I will hopefully keep strengthening my ankle. I will spend time with my friends.

By the time I leave for my writing retreat, I will have made a decision about where I’m going to live. I don’t know what that decision will be, but I know I’ll make it.

I guess my biggest wish for myself for 2015 is this: that I stay centered and keep moving forward. Forward in my writing, forward in my health, forward in my relationships, and forward in becoming more and more fully me.

I wish the same to all of you. May you continue moving forward. And may we all have a very happy New Year!

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.

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It is April 1st, and I have officially moved. All my stuff was in one place, and now it is in a different place. It is mostly in boxes, which is admittedly sad for me. But it is here!

Meanwhile, I am completely exhausted. I want to lie around and do not much for the next several weeks at least. I am not going to do that, because I have a novel to write and stuff to remove from boxes and place in spots that look purposeful. But it sounds like a lovely idea.

Nala and I, collapsed on the floor.

Nala and I, collapsed on the floor.

I gave up the keys to my old place yesterday, and I did feel a pang. I tend towards the sentimental, and even more so when I’m tired. I was only living there for one year, but it was certainly an eventful year, not to mention a year surprisingly well documented with photos. I have many happy memories of time spent in that condo.

It’s strange how leaving a space feels like leaving something more intangible behind. I’ve heard people reference the memories that live in the walls, and I suppose that is some of it. But there’s also, I think, the more pervasive feeling of change. Now that this one major part of my life has changed, how are the ripples of that change going to spread? I’ve talked before about being in a liminal space, and moving certainly triggers that experience, of transition and being in between.

I think maybe that’s why I’m so tired. Okay, realistically, I’m so tired because moving is a huge amount of work and expense and stress. But I also feel slightly off balance, like things are in motion but I’m not quite sure what all they are or where they’re going.

It’s somewhat comforting to consider, then, that my priorities remain much the same. Nala, my novel, my friends. Settling into the new place and getting my body back to its normal state after all the moving strains. Thinking interesting and challenging and wonderful thoughts.

Things change and things stay the same, all in a strange concurrent muddle of life.

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I spent last weekend at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. The theme of the conference is how to live a remarkable life in a conventional world.

I could write so many essays about things I learned this weekend (and maybe I will in the future). But right now I want to share some moments of transformation.

As some of my long-time readers know, I’ve been struggling with a lot of physical problems the last few years. I hurt both my knees in the spring of 2009, and they never completely recovered. I’ve also repeatedly injured my left ankle. At the height of these injuries, I was unable to walk a single city block.

But by far the worst parts of my injuries are the activities I’ve had to give up. Nowadays I have to tailor my travel very carefully around my limitations. I’ve spent the last four years being unable to hike, an activity I’ve been doing since I learned to walk. And for the most part, I’ve had to give up dancing.

I began to dance in a summer theater program when I was around eleven, and I was horrible at it. I was awkward, uncoordinated, as inflexible as could be, and had trouble even figuring out if I was turning right or left. But I learned that summer that I could like something even though I wasn’t good at it.

I continued to dance. I learned to dance through the musicals I performed in. I spent months learning how to do the time step (tap). In college, I took some jazz dance classes, swing classes, and salsa classes. But it was in London that I completely fell in love with dance. I took a weekly Five Rhythms (R) dance class, which is a kind of freestyle meditative dance, and I couldn’t get enough.

When I dance, it stops mattering what I look like, or how good or bad a dancer I am. All that matters is the beat and my body moving and the energy I’m sharing with those dancing around me. Everything else falls away, and I feel so much closer to the essentials of what matters to me.

And then I couldn’t dance any more. I had to be careful. I had to be cautious. I had to avoid pain and allow space for the healing that was so incredibly slow. I couldn’t put  much weight on my ankle, and what if I bent it the wrong way? What if I pushed myself too far and undid whatever progress I had made? More than four years passed in this way.

This weekend I gave up on being careful. I let go of safe. Such a large part of my injuries was related to stress and tight muscles and losing a part of myself. And I’ve been working so hard to make the necessary changes to heal.

This weekend it was time.

Me with some new WDS friends at the closing party. Photo by Armosa Studios.

I danced. At first it was hard, awkward with my left ankle in a brace. I couldn’t remember how to move. I don’t have the right muscles anymore. The few times I’ve allowed myself to dance in the past few years, I’ve been so very careful. But this time I didn’t stop myself. I paid attention to my body and experimented at the opening party, and then Sunday night at the closing party, I let myself go. I danced three hours straight with only brief breaks. Once I had started, I never wanted to stop.

I’m somewhere in that crowd, dancing with all my might! Photo by Armosa Studios.

I spent many years not feeling like I could be myself. No longer being able to dance was a symptom of that feeling. I was trapped in a prison of impossible expectations, both outer and inner. The world felt like a dangerous place.

When people tell or show us that we don’t matter, we begin to believe it. Until we consciously choose NOT to believe it.

I danced at the World Domination Summit to celebrate the experience of being myself, in all its facets: the brilliance and the mistakes, the joys and the pains, the successes and the failures. Lately I’ve often felt like I’m waiting, that something new is right around the bend if I can only hold out that long.

But something new isn’t coming. Something new is already here.

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“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” – Anne Morriss

My friend posted this quotation on Facebook the other day, and I’ve been thinking ever since about the relationship between commitment, fear, and change.

Commitment is, in a way, about leaning into the fear. Because once we become wholly committed to something, then we have something to lose in a way we didn’t before, and that can be really freaking scary. And commitment is about change, because even if it doesn’t cause any outward differences, it transforms what’s going on inside our minds and hearts. It alters our personal stories.

To commit fully is to feel naked and exposed. It is to drop any facade of insouciance or nonchalance. It is almost a confession, that this, this is something I’ve chosen to pour my heart, my energy, my time, and my passion into.

Commitment doesn’t come with any guarantees of success. If it did, it wouldn’t be nearly so interesting, so raw, so immersive in that which is vulnerable. But it does, as Anne Morriss says, remove our heads as barriers. It allows us to throw ourselves completely into our lives. It allows us to choose the kind of lives about which we can later sit down and write memoirs.

Photo Credit: thomas_sly via Compfight cc

When I think about my life, I realize that I couldn’t have followed through on the really hard things I’ve done without deep commitment. I couldn’t have gotten my college degree or had a senior recital. I couldn’t have moved to London. I couldn’t have started my own business. I couldn’t have become a writer. I couldn’t have engaged on a personal and emotional level with the people who are important to me. And I couldn’t have changed who I am and how I relate to the world.

All of those things involved risk and the chance of failure. All of them allowed the possibility of someone saying no, of things going wrong, of heartache and disappointment and mistakes, of me wimping out. All of them scared me.

When I arrived in London with my two gigantic suitcases, just out of college and with a freshly broken heart, a friend met me at the airport and helped me get to the place I was staying. And then he left, and I sat there, and I thought, “Oh my god, what have I done?” And then I cried. But the next morning I got out of bed and I left my flat and I explored London. Because I was committed to being there and having the richest experience I could, even though I was lonely and scared and didn’t know what I was doing.

There are so many times when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Commitment helps me lean into the fear and discomfort of that feeling, and do it anyway. If we want to put ourselves out there in the world, if we want to try to do amazing things, I think that kind of commitment is necessary. The commitment gives us the permission we need to really go for it.

Commit and be free. I like that. It’s the kind of complex idea that requires a lot of thought to see the layers of truth it contains.

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